The disastrous Obamacare rollout has Democrats on the defensive, and looking for any excuse to change the subject. They will almost certainly look to reengage one of their favorite diversions: the “war on women.”
For example, liberals have seized on North Carolina Republican representative Renee Ellmers’s questioning of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius during last week’s hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ellmers was arguing that health-insurance premiums are rising in part because, under Obamacare, the government sets a generous level of minimum coverage that insurance companies must offer, which in some cases results in individuals being forced to purchase a greater level of coverage than they want or need.
As an example, Ellmers noted that a single, 32-year-old male would not have much use for maternity coverage, yet would be required to purchase a policy that includes it under Obamacare. “To the best of your knowledge has a man ever delivered a baby?” she asked Sebelius, who conceded that she didn’t “think so.”
Conservative health-care expert (and NRO contributor) Avik Roy has made a similar argument. Obamacare is a “war on bros,” he said Tuesday on Fox News; young, healthy men in particular will end up paying significantly more for health insurance than they would otherwise. “Young people are going to pay more. Men are going to pay more, relative to women. And healthy people are going to pay more relative to sick people,” Roy explained.
Liberal commentators pounced, arguing that “Republicans want to make women pay more for insurance again” and that conservatives are “outraged that under Obamacare, women are equal to men.” Ellmers’s comments “revealed only her profound ignorance about how health insurance works,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.
With Obamacare likely to be a major issue heading into the 2014 elections, if the administration is unable to make substantial progress toward fixing the exchanges in the next few months, Democrats will start to get nervous. They will probably try to rehash their 2012 strategy, when Democrats successfully seized on a series of tangential political issues targeted at specific demographics such a women, Hispanics, and young voters in order to distract from the sluggish economy.
Democrats have made clear they plan to “bury” Republicans — in the eyes of Hispanic voters, essentially — if they don’t agree to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. And they will no doubt try to exploit Republican opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which provides federal workplace protections for gays and lesbians, in an effort to rally young voters against the GOP.
Women, of course, will be wooed at every turn. Expect Senate majority leader Harry Reid to hold another vote on the so-called Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for people to sue their employers for gender discrimination and eliminate caps on punitive-damage claims in class-action discrimination lawsuits. Democrats have a penchant for giving friendly names to bills they know Republicans will oppose, and then attacking GOP lawmakers for “opposing equal pay for women,” or “supporting workplace discrimination.” And if Republicans point out, as Ellmers did, that Obamacare unfairly forces people — young men in particular — to buy insurance plans they don’t want or need at a higher cost, they will inevitably be attacked for waging a war on women’s health care. This isn’t even the first loaded attack by Democrats over the essential-benefits provision of Obamacare: In 2012, they seized on the debate over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate (an issue likely to be decided by the Supreme Court).
Democrats have certainly had some success propagating the “war on women” theme and putting Republicans on the defensive. Their ability to do so may be undermined by the ongoing disaster that is Obamacare. But that won’t stop them from trying.
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.